There are few things for a tourist to do in Macau. These are gambling, whoring, eating and walking around looking at Portuguese colonial ruins. There wasn’t much time in my day trip from Hongkers, so I ate and walked around looking at Portuguese colonial ruins.
And they are really old ruins too, seeing as the Portuguese had already set up a trading colony on this little outcrop of the Pearl River Delta by the 16th century. By the 1840s however, the Portuguese were waning as a colonial power, and focus shifted east to Hong Kong, where your first ferry services already operated on a daily basis, with fast multi-oared craft known as centipedes plying the route between British Hong Kong and Portuguese Macao. Apparently, gambling, whoring, eating and walking around looking at Portuguese colonial ruins were the things to do then as well.
Today, I took the Turbojet operated by the Shun Tak China Travel Ship Management Limited from Chinese Hong Kong to Chinese Macao. Upon landing at the ferry terminal, I was not so much accosted by touts and peddlers offering all sorts of tourist activities on all forms of transportation – trishaws, buses, taxis and pirate taxis – than whispered at. The Macanese authorities must have clamped down on such things. I whispered back at the touts and jumped into a taxi and asked to be taken to St. Paul’s, you know, that Portuguese colonial ruin that everyone poses in front of to take a picture with?
St Paul’s facade (which is the only thing left of St Paul’s) looks over the city of Macau from the top of Rua de Santo Paolo, which really is a bunch of steps they recently re-paved. It was a little too sunny for my liking, so I didn’t stay long after taking a few shots and trying to listen to a tour guide explaining things in Mandarin to a bunch of Chinese tourists. I managed to comprehend something about a fire and many people die and fire and only the front is left, something something. My handy map (you can get this from the ferry terminal) did tell me to select Hutchison Mobile on my mobile so I could #83 SEND and REPLY #8324 and wait for a recorded message to tell me how St Paul’s was left with only its facade. I only managed a #83 SEND, then ERROR dunnowhat, before I made my way up some more steps to the Forteleza Monte (where I could also have #83 SENT). The fort is home to an artillery battery that used to protect Macau by firing its big cannons over the city and into the harbour, hopefully hitting some Dutch and Spanish ships wanting to have a piece of Macanese action.
Then I remembered I hadn’t had breakfast, so I traipsed down the Rua de Santo Paolo to eat some Macanese food in town. Before I got to the town centre proper, I passed by a whole row of confectioners, all touting themselves as the original purveyors of Macanese confectionery such as egg rolls, egg rolls with seaweed, egg rolls with pork floss, egg rolls with peanuts and those delightfully shiny and translucent tiles they call pork lard candy. I accepted samples of the egg rolls from every shop along the way, declining only the pork lard candies. Some of the quieter shops were quite aggressive in shoving samples into your hand, sometimes grabbing your hand and putting an egg roll or two in it, and then looking at you quizzically when you don’t go, ‘mmmm’, and ask ‘gei dor cheen yat hup’ and buy three boxes for your mother-in-law.
I was quite full by the time I got to what I thought was the centre of town. It wasn’t the centre of town, and there weren’t that many restaurants around, and I was beat. So I settled for one of those ubiquitous cafes and had a distinctly non-Macanese brunch of Beef Innard Noodles in Soup (Ngau Chaap Tong Meen), after which, I looked at the map and decided to walk around looking for more Portuguese colonial ruins.
I ran through another array of confectioners down another Rua. But this time, they were peddling bean-flour cookies, bean-flour cookies with seaweed, bean-flour cookies with pork floss, bean-flour cookies with almonds and peanuts and plain egg rolls. I ate one sample of each and was sufficiently weighed down to want to stop for a much needed coffee, and I was much pleased when I found I was on Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro, which in Chinese, is simply called ‘Xin Ma Lu’, or New Road. This avenida leads to the harbour, where the kitsch-looking Casino Lisboa sits. So there’d be many cafes and restaurants along the way, so I thought. Nup. Just the one cafe, and many, many more confectioners.
This thoroughfare is quaint, though, with its two crowded lanes carrying the type of buses I haven’t seen in Singapore since the 70s. So cute. So I took many photos. After my coffee break at the cafe (which also sold egg rolls and bean-flour cookies), I made my way down towards the harbour, and passed Senado Square, where there were more tourists milling around an ordinary looking fountain, taking turns to pose for photographs. By the time I got to the Casino Lisboa, I was tired enough not to want to even venture inside the gambling hall. Instead, I waited in the taxi queue for a cab, which there were many, but they seemed to keep dropping off very ‘glamourous’ looking young Chinese women, and then pick up other ‘glamourous’ looking young Chinese women who had no qualms about jumping queue.
When I finally got into a cab by uncharacteristically jumping queue, I was zipped across the skinny bridge spanning the strait between the Macanese peninsula and Taipa Island. All I said to the cab driver was ‘I want to eat water crab porridge because my friend says I should eat water crab porridge in Macau’.
The cabbie dropped me off at the entrance to a pretty little enclave in Taipa, and told me to look for the water crab porridge place inside. So I went and looked. There were more confectioners and more egg rolls and cookies to be had until I finally came to a brightly lit restaurant with pictures of Andy Lau, Leslie Cheung and a slew of other Hongkie celebrities, dead and alive, all smiling over their porridges. This had to be it.
I asked for three of their signature dishes, and was told these were the Water Crab Porridge, the Steamed Eel with Black Bean Paste, and the Deep Fried Fish Balls. Within a minute, a large basin of orange congee with a crab’s shell and bits of claw peeking from under was placed on my table. The Eel and Fish Balls came soon after. I was about to eat myself to death.
The porridge is sinfully tasty, if you like the taste of crab and crab roe, that is. A large amount of roe is mixed into the rice porridge, which gives the congee its colour. The Fish Balls weren’t too bad either, and they had bits of fish meat sticking out of it. (Think of really good otak, only rounder, and you get the picture). The Eel dish wasn’t too pleasant, but mostly because there were too many bones to pick out from between my teeth. Still I managed to down most of the stuff on the table, thinking that if I really ate till I burst, they’d probably take a picture and put it next to Leslie Cheung’s.
The rest of the evening was quite a blur as I stumbled back to the main avenido, eating more confectionery samples along the way, and was convinced by one of the spruikers to buy two tubs of bean-paste cookies to eat on the boat back to Hong Kong, no matter if I was burping crab roe the whole Turbojet ride.
Estabelecimento de Comidas Seng Cheong
Rua do Cunha, Taipa, Macau SAR
$$ (HKD 200 for three dishes like above)
Food: Not Bad.
Chill factor: N/A
Other foods to try and buy in Macau:
Macanese version of Cincalok and Belacan (Macau, Malacca, same, same);
Pork Chop Sandwich.